"Whaddya got?"

Bill alerted me to this piece in the New Yorker on the current wave of populism in the US. It seems anything those in power do is automatically wrong even when it’s things voters say they like. The author, James Surowiecki, argues that anything done will be unpopular until it starts working – so don’t worry too much.

The temptation, then, is simply to abandon ambitious plans in an attempt to annoy no one. But a better approach would be to recognize that voters’ anger is less ideological than pragmatic: at heart, it’s the product of the weak economy and the poor job market. (The movement that today’s populism most closely resembles is Ross Perot’s, which arose, similarly, during a downturn.) And while that means that there’s no way to make voters happy without improving the economy, it also means that, if you start creating jobs, people will start to feel better.

Populism is basically an emotional response, not a rational one. Voters seem to want to cut the deficit and do more for jobs; they want healthcare reform but things to stay the same for them; they like what is in the stimulus package but not the stimulus package. In all downturns populism springs. We can’t just pull out the weeds; we need to till and reinvigorate the soil so something better grows out of it.
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